Monday, May 24, 2010

Feedback is a Gift

About 4 years ago I was approached by a man who wanted to give me some feedback - and none of it was positive.  He spent the better part of 30 minutes explaining and justifying how I had wronged him and why I barely deserved access to the oxygen I needed to breath (OK, he didn't say that specifically but that was about the tone of his message).  My initial reaction was shock - I sincerely had no idea he had such a problem with me.  As I listened to his rant, I was often tempted to jump in and defend myself and explain the apparent misunderstanding - but I refrained.  It was clear he needed to get this off his chest, so I took it on the chin.

In a recent training retreat I was reminded of this experience as well as the phrase that I kept playing over and over in my head to help me keep my cool while I was attacked: "Feedback is a gift!"  I honestly tried to appraise the situation and understand if there was some way I could learn and improve based on this feedback - the only way feedback can ever be a gift.  If you fail to try and learn and improve from it, then it will seldom add value to your life.

Once this man finished saying what he wanted to say, I communicated my surprise and I told him what I thought I might be able to do in the future to be better based on his feedback.  In fact, I swallowed my pride whole when I said: "Thank you for this feedback."  My response completely dis-armed him and we finished with a healthy conversation wherein he admitted he was at fault and we resolved to move forward and make things better.

The point of the story is this: whether it is good or bad, feedback is a gift.  If the feedback is neutral or you receive no feedback at all, then you really don't know where you stand and if you should be changing or improving something.  If you receive sincere positive feedback, then you will know you should do more of the same in the future.  If the feedback is negative, then you know what you should change in the future.  And, let it motivate you to make sure you never get that feedback again.

Either way, it is a gift of knowledge with which you can make the right decisions and take the right actions.  No feedback or insincere feedback (which, in my opinion, is the worst kind of feedback) is useless and should leave us wondering how we are actually doing.

When running a business, feedback should be the number one source of inputs you consider when crafting your strategic and tactical plan to build a successful enterprise.  You will take in qualitative feedback from conversations with and surveys of customers, employees, contractors, suppliers, and vendors.  You need to process quantitative feedback in the form of monthly financial statements, budget vs. actual analysis, daily and weekly dashboards, cash flow projections, and so much more.  Not receiving this information, whether good or bad, is crippling - you have no idea if you are doing well or n0t.

In my experience, the best entrepreneurs and CEOs are those who recognize that feedback is a gift.  They become empowered with real and actionable information from all of the appropriate sources.

So, why don't many people view feedback as a gift?  Because it is painful.  It is making yourself vulnerable and exposing your weaknesses and strengths to others, and sometimes they will come at you with more negative than you think you can handle.  But if you truly consider feedback as the gift that it is, it will always work to your ultimate benefit.